There are several new companies coming out of the woodwork to help smaller publishers make money from their blog or blogs. I see this as just another step on the path from traditional media to distributed citizen media. It's also a great development in terms of enabling individuals to take control of their financial destiny.
History and Progress
Newspapers, radio shows, and other traditional media have always written favorable articles about advertisers. That is, after all, a big part of the motivation for Consumer Reports - to provide unbiased reviews of products. There are also several watchdog agencies that are pointing out the commercial bias in traditional media as Andy Hagans points out in the ReviewMe Blog. So, this is just a further step in an existing trend. And, as a further step, it's not surprising that a lot of the same contentious issues play out.
If you send a free gadget to a reviewer is that a "pay per review" situation? Martin Varsavsky debates this point but in his case he's lucky to just have a $5 product! But, when jounalists given over $500 worth of multimedia/cell phone kit, can you really expect them to be totally unbiased in writing about Nokia? Some people are bashing this new wave of "paid blogging" as biasing the blogosphere, but it's not as cut/clear of an issue as some
At the same time we've all heard the statistics about people ignoring advertising more and more - so marketers are a bit concerned about how to keep getting their ideas passed along in meme sex.
Review of the Companies
So, all that history and opinion behind us, there have been several product or beta launches in paid blogging recently that bear review. The major three that I've seen are ReviewMe, PayPerPost, and Blogsvertise. I list them in that order based upon my initial impression of them. It's a bit hard to compare them because they are in different stages at this point, but here is an initial review of each company:
In a category that can easily be scummy and cheap, ReviewMe is so far my favorite concept. They require disclosure of the fact that it's a paid post, they don't require you to be positive about the company - it's a review so you say what you want, and they're going to pay you to do it. So, you say what you already wanted to say, someone else comes up with the topic, you disclose the sponsorship, you get some money. The biggest question to me is how much money - and the potential for negative reviews seems like it might reduce the potential advertiser pool reducing the payment. Advertisers will have to really embrace the "cluetrain manifesto" to be willing to put themselves out like this. As the ReviewMe folks have pointed out - the blog is a conversation and if it's negative then the company can respond in comments and address concerns. Positive and negative reviews can be helpful if handled the right way.
A blurb from the ReviewMe Roy says it all:
how can I provide both valuable feedback and buzz to advertisers in the blogosphere, simultaneously allowing bloggers to increase their revenue while mainting their editorial integrity and true voice?
This company has raised a lot of comments - good and bad - and they actually raised a lot of venture capital funding as well. So, they get some credit just for being an existing project that is pretty much exploding. Their control panel is slick if not overly busy, it has a community feeling with avatars and user profiles, and it has one amazing feature: "Top Earners". The Top Earners section is where you see that people have made thousands of dollars with the service. They have an affiliate system based on submitting someone's email address (blech - it should be link based!) but at least they have one. They currently have about 100 "opportunities" ranging from $35 to $2.50. They provide a sorting method and advertisers choose whether the post should be positive or neutral, has to have a certain number of words, has to include a certain kind of link and link text, has to include an image or not, etc. This allows the marketplace to decide the appropriate way to advertise, but it also allows the system to invite the lowest common denominator. In the end ReviewMe will probably be a "cleaner" environment, but may not have as many opportunities.
Basically, this is something that I can't even describe. The sign up process was weak, there are misspellings all over the place, the interface feels very old, and they require three links to the advertiser (as opposed to one from PayPerPost and zero from ReviewMe). I can't really put my finder on it, but if I had to pick one company most likely to get people to do work and then accidentally forget to pay them, it would be Blogsvertise.
So, that's it. I'm not a participant in any of these programs, just an innocent bystander. It will definitely be interesting to see how these services pan out. It's also possible there will be more companies joining the field.